Does Lasith Malinga have another World Cup in him?

Lasith Malinga
Lasith Malinga

(ESPNCricinfo) For most of the past 12 months, Lasith Malinga has been desperate to regain his place in the national squad. Now that he is back in, here are four questions that must be answered over the course of the tournament, if Malinga is to be a prospect for Sri Lanka at the World Cup.

Can his body sustain 10-over workouts?

Knees, ankles, shoulder, groin – you name a body part, and at some point in his career, Malinga has had an injury concern there. Late in his career, the most vulnerable areas seem to be the joints in his legs, which have had various surgeries performed on them, and have been repeatedly treated with injections. What is especially worrying about this recall, is that Malinga has played only six List A games in 2018.

Privately, even one of Malinga’s long-time coaches has been skeptical that he can stay fit through what will be a packed limited-overs schedule over the next two months. The state of Malinga’s fitness may also limit Angelo Mathews tactically – he may only be able to bowl Malinga in short spells, even if he would prefer the bowler to deliver a long one. That Malinga does not appear to have dropped much of the weight he has put on over the last three years is perhaps not helping the fitness situation.

Will his fielding be a serious liability?

In a recent press conference, coach Chandika Hathurusingha said Malinga’s selection would depend not just on his bowling performances in domestic cricket, but also on the quality of his fielding. Hathurusingha’s view is especially relevant here, because although it is the selection committee – of which Hathurusingha is not a member – that has picked the squad for the Asia Cup, Hathurusingha and captain Mathews will be responsible for choosing the final XI in each game.

If Malinga does play – and there is no guarantee that he will – Mathews may then also be forced to find places in the field to essentially hide Malinga. In the past, good batsmen have exploited Malinga’s weak fielding, by repeatedly stealing extra runs after manoeuvring the ball into his area. Unless Malinga’s fielding, which has long been his worst suit, has improved substantially since he last played, his bowling will need to compensate for the runs he will give up in the field.

Is Malinga still a force at the death?

ODIs have by a distance been Sri Lanka’s worst format since 2016, and much of that decline can be put down to the fading of two of their finest limited-overs bowlers ever. It seems unlikely that Malinga’s long-time death-bowling partner Nuwan Kulasekara can reclaim a place in the national squad, but now that Malinga is back in, Sri Lanka will hope that their consistent woes at the death of an innings can be partly solved.

There is some evidence this year that Malinga has still got it in the high-pressure overs. He was the joint-highest wicket-taker in Sri Lanka’s inter-club T20 competition in February and March, though that tournament was of low quality. He then performed creditably in the Global T20 Canada, in which heclaimed 13 wickets and maintained an economy rate of 6.41 across six games. He was not exactly stellar in the recent provincial T20 tournament in Sri Lanka, but the selectors nevertheless have picked him on what they saw in him in that tournament. If he can still get his yorkers and slower balls humming at the Asia Cup, Malinga will have made a strong case for being a World Cup contender.

Can this Sri Lanka team tap into Malinga’s wealth of experience and expertise?

Whatever the state of Malinga’s fitness and bowling, what is beyond dispute is that he is an excellent thinker and strategist in cricket. Sri Lanka’s bowling plans have often been shaped by Malinga insights, and in his pomp, he would routinely outwit batsmen to claim their wickets. Malinga has also expressed a desire to work closely with younger fast bowlers, to pass on what he knows.

He feels he has already had a positive impact on Mumbai Indians team-mate Jasprit Bumrah’s career, and has also served as Mumbai’s bowling mentor in the most recent IPL. However, he has also expressed frustration at not feeling valued within the Sri Lanka set-up, so perhaps it will take a little management skill from Hathurusingha and co to create an environment in which Malinga can pass on his bowling smarts to the remaining quicks.



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